West Coast classic right here — still bangs to this day.
State your stage name and profession for the record.
What up! My name is Lean Rock and I’m a bboy/dj.
How long have you been DJing? Do you remember your first DJ gig?
I’ve been playing music for about 12 years but honestly I would say I didn’t really start djing until about 6 years ago. My first gig was Ken Swift’s Raiders of the Lost Art back in 2005. Looking back at that gig I wouldn’t really consider myself a DJ.
What’s your favorite DJ era in the Bay Area and why?
I’m originally from Boston so I grew up around more djs from the New York/Philly/Boston area. I didn’t really know much about the Bay Area dj scene until I met Paulskee. He put me on to a lot of gems and Bay Area legends mainly from early 80s to late 90s (Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters, Apollo, the Filipino mobile Dj movement, etc.). I was familiar with Qbert, Mixmaster Mike, and Dj Shadow as a kid but I didn’t really know much about the Bay until Paul schooled me. Derrick D, Shortkut, and Swiftrock (R.I.P) were probably the first Bay Area djs I heard play out live. The moment I heard them play, I knew the Bay was on another level. I really appreciated hearing how tasteful they were with selection and how skillful they were. On the skilled dj tip they were better than most djs I’ve ever heard… they could also rock a party and they could also kill it at the bboy jam. You know that saying jack-of- all-trades… master of none… a lot of Bay Area dj legends I know are the master of all trades. I’m going with the 90s generation but don’t take my word on that because my knowledge isn’t so deep on Bay Area dj history.
You’re on stage in front of all your heroes and you gotta rock a 10 minute all vinyl set to prove your worthiness. What records do you choose?
I think it’s safe to say that my specialty is playing obscure breaks. So I’m definitely going to rock out some obscure joints that most peeps probably aren’t hip to. I’m definitely “nerding” out in this situation. Most of my dj heroes are hip hop heads, so I think they would definitely appreciate hearing some breaks. I mean that is the foundation of hip hop culture right? I’ve been fortunate enough to play at the Tools of War park jams in NYC every year and play with most of my dj heroes…I’m not really big on sharing titles of breaks but I’ll give you a little something:
3rd Avenue Blues Band – Come On and Get It
Keef James – Find Your Own Way
Kaleidoscope – Tempe Arizona
Mandrill – Get It All
XXXXXXX – Hey Hey Na Na
Talk about what it’s like to DJ for b-boys and battles in general. Is it challenging? How different is it from rockin’ clubs? What methods do you use to prepare for specific gigs? Any other insight for DJs that want to get more into the b-boy scene?
This is going to be long because there is just so much to bring up…. I feel like just like anything else in life… it’s as challenging as you make it. You can either play it safe and play all the known joints or you can be righteous to the people and put them on to something dope they aren’t up on. It’s either you’re in it for the quick fix or you’re in it for the long run. Just like anything else you have to put in the time if you want to do it right. The basic dj mixing skills are definitely required to play bboy battles but in general most dancers get annoyed with over the top scratching/juggling when they’re dancing. Most bboys and bgirls aren’t too keen of it because when it’s overdone it overpowers the music. It’s better to be funky and clean on the cuts. It’s also best to keep the beat steady on the juggles. Rocking a party is definitely the same in this sense. It’s about BALANCE. Through my experience, I would say selection is most important to the dancers. As long as you keep a nice flow going on the mix and you’re playing the right joints for them, they will go off. There are 2 approaches you need to learn in order do well at a bboy event.
The first approach is the cypher approach, which is pretty much like rocking a party. This is considered the “down time” at most bboy events but for me it’s the time to go in. Cypher time is a true testament to how well you control the vibe and how well you’re really rocking the jam. This is your time to shine. There is nothing forced at this moment. This is the perfect time to take people on a journey. Your job is to play music that will touch different feelings and different emotions. I usually play more feel good classic/unknown boom bap hip hop joints and classic funk/breaks joints during the cypher time. Depending on the crowd at the event (mixture of dance styles or just normal folks), I will go even a little further with my music selection (maybe some House, Future Funk, etc.).
The second approach is the battle approach. Bboys and bgirls are kind of forced to dance to what’s given to them in a battle. So the battle approach is definitely more about giving the dancers something a little more energetic to keep the spirits up. So I tend to play my more up-tempo breaks and up-tempo funky joints (JB style) for battles. I try my best to keep it funky and not too fast. For battles I usually play tracks in the bpm range of 110 – 125. I’m personally not a fan of dancing to stiff drums. As a bboy, I need to be just as loose as that drummer is. I need that natural swing or it just doesn’t that funky feel to it.
I highly suggest keeping the music going in between battles. This keeps the vibe and flow of the event going. When you cut the music off the vibe dies down and I feel like the host goes a little overboard with the talking. So keep that music playing to keep everyone in check. Quick mixing is also very important to playing bboy battles. You want to make sure you’re not playing the same track for too long (unless there are multiple sections on the song you can flip). I would say play a track no longer than 2 minutes. You want to also make sure you bring in the next record at the right time during a bboy battle. You don’t want to interrupt the dancer’s flow or energy in a battle. So you bring in the next record either as soon that bboy finishes his round or as soon as that next dancer comes out. It’s very important to pay attention to the dancers and try your best to read their movement. The next song you bring in should also match in energy. This is important when it comes to keeping the energy up in a battle. Most djs are all over the place with this. So it’s all about putting the right pieces together to the puzzle.
Since playing at bboy events are so focused on one particular crowd (bboys & bgirls), the idea of playing at a bboy event is pretty simple. As long as you keep it in the realms of up-tempo hip hop and funk you will be good. The hardest part of it is finding the music for it since there really isn’t a lot of good music made specifically for breaking. Apache and Its Just Begun are considered bboy classics, but these records weren’t made with bboys in mind. They just happen to have the feel that was needed to make bboys go off. Digging is key.
As far as preparation goes, if I’m not familiar with the party or the city I do my research on the party and city. I’m asking people I know that might have attended/played the party/gig and I’m also getting info from the promoter. In the breaking world, I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t work through experience and travel. It’s not as complicated as a party is for me because I’m definitely more known in the bboy community. As far as the set goes, I tend to prepare micro sets but I’m freestyling. You will never know the exact mood of any gig until you feel it out. Bboy events are usually very long too (much longer than most parties are). So you definitely need to prep up to play tons of tracks (at least 6-10 hours worth of tracks).. There isn’t a great variety of music that will be played at a bboy event compared to the variety being played at most parties… so digging is key in the bboy world.
The edits, remixes, and original production thing are also cool as long as it’s done right (and tastefully). Relying too much on remixes and edits gets a little corny considering a lot of the songs we dance to are already masterpieces (Kon makes some really good remixes though). You’re probably not going to make a James Brown song better than what it already is. As far as edits go, don’t just have the track looping the whole time… it’s boring. Give it a little flavor. As a dancer, I really feel like these remixes don’t give as much new inspiration as new music does. New music brings new feeling. Most remixes and edits are done in lazy fashion (especially in the bboy scene), usually with too many layers of drum breaks on top of the main groove. I think when some people make remixes they’re relying on the popularity/catchiness of a song rather than how well how they can be creative and flip it better to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. This is why I really appreciated hip hop remixes back in the days… because people actually made the effort to flip the original. They weren’t just throwing in a extra verse over the same beat and calling it a day. They were giving the songs new life. As far as original production, you need to spend loads of time on it and hire real musicians if you’re plugins aren’t cutting it. I personally hate it when the instruments sound super generic and unreal especially with horns and drums. Your drums need to be knocking….. I will just leave it at that.
Lastly, most bboy events lack females. I think this makes a lot of bboy events boring compared to parties. I feel like females bring a very dynamic energy that is needed to set the mood right. The female presence definitely lightens up the mood and definitely makes the environment more fun. So the party rocking scene is definitely miles ahead on that. So yeah rocking a party and bboy events are two different animals with plenty of similarities.
Favorite burrito joint?
My burrito game is weak out here (LA). I spend more time eating tacos. My go to spots for tacos are Guisados and Leo’s Taco Truck. The only spot I go to consistently for burritos is Papalote’s in SF and I’m barely ever in SF. (I have to add that I was really disappointed in the OG El Farolito).
Curry or Kobe?
I’m a Boston guy so this kind of a difficult question to answer. I can’t front though…I got a lot of respect for Kobe and Curry. Kobe has proved himself as one of the most fierce competitors in the NBA ever. Kobe definitely stepped up his game when it mattered most. He had the killer instinct that most players lack today. I think Curry is great role model on & off the court and I feel like he’s improved on his game faster than anyone I’ve ever seen in the NBA. I’m just not so sure if Curry has that same killer instinct that Kobe or Jordan had. I mean it’s really hard to compare them because they both play the game differently. They both can score but Curry relies more on shooting outside (Curry is a much better 3pt shooter). Kobe relied more on jump shots and driving to the hole. I think Westbrook would probably be the better comparison for Kobe. I think Kobe at his prime was a better all around basketball player than Curry is in his prime. I think this also comes down to size. Kobe has leverage on size…so typically you’re going to get more defensive attributes with size. Curry still has some years left in the NBA, so there’s still plenty left to prove. Curry is probably better for team chemistry and probably a better fit in most team rotations in today’s NBA. Kobe’s competitive attitude was his strong point but it also his downfall. So I feel like Kobe really thrives depending on who’s coaching him, his teammates and what system he’s playing under… while Curry would probably thrive under more coaches and thrive under more systems than Kobe would.
What’s one of your favorite places to go unplug and unwind on the West Coast?
I love going to Point Dume in Malibu. There is nothing that clears the mind better than the ocean. There aren’t a lot of tourist that go to Point Dume because it’s kind of a mission to get to and it’s also difficult to find.
What’s a current favorite album you’re listening to now that you think you’ll still be listening to 10 years from now?
My taste in music has changed drastically since I’ve moved to LA. I think I got exposed to loads of great music well beyond the funk & hip hop realm since moving here. My standards are a bit higher because the musical inspiration here in LA is much better than it was in Boston. Boston is a much smaller city with less going on in the arts & entertainment world. I’ve gained more of an open ear to different genres of music and I’ve went to more shows that made me feel uncomfortable (which I think is very important as a music lover). You know I’m a hip hop head but I really feel like hip hop music has really been inconsistent with the word “timeless” in recent years. I feel like it’s really shifting into sub genres. Most albums don’t provide the middle ground that’s needed to make a classic. There have definitely been some solid releases (ATCQ, De La Soul, Kendrick, etc.) in recent years but there really isn’t any hip hop album that has stayed in my rotation after a few months in. Everything kind of seems rushed out and the standards are just really low right now. It all feels like some flavor of the month type thing. I feel like most people are peer pressured into feeling like some of these solid rap albums are classics just because most albums that have came out in recent years have been subpar. I’m trying my best to enjoy music for what it is not even use the word classic…because only time can tell. I don’t really have one favorite album at the moment…. but I will say these 3 albums have definitely been in my rotation steadily the past 2 years… Anderson Paak’s “Malibu”, Kaytranada “99.9”, and Hiatus Kaiyote “Choose Your Weapon”… they’re hip hop influenced.
Drop some shout outs and where folks can find you on social media.
Shout out to Platurn and True for the interview. Shout out to God, my family, my crew, my friends, and all the people that I’ve ever got to vibe out with. One love.
If you like Kendrick Lamar’s new album and dig what forward thinking vocalists and musicians in Los Angeles have done historically, then you need to revisit ‘ALL BALLS DON’t BOUNCE’ (shout out to DJ Haylow one time). Here’s a classic from the album…
Here is the pop quiz…what Hip-Hop is?
Here’s the full album as well: